I toss grain at my brother’s chickens. Their beaks lunge and snap back. At first I think they eye me with indifference, but when I look closer I see annoyance. I am a nuisance, no matter what I bring. The bottle of Riesling I brought for dinner is sweating by the kitchen sink. Couldn’t they have put it in a random vase with some ice? Something. Something to save the taste of this night. I flip off my black flats. A chicken shits in one. I pull a cigarette and a match from behind my ear. I’m going to tell her tonight. I take a drag and flick white ash on the chicken’s head. It squawks and flaps its useless wings, makes its way to its bed inside the coop. I don’t know why my brother kept this place. Dad wanted him to sell it. I know he did. Dad would have wanted it. His fucking wife. She always compliments my dress, my hair, my life. She sniffs my perfume and cracks clean jokes. She wears an apron to the dinner table. When she pops open his Budweiser and kisses his cheek, holds a knife in one hand and a fork in the other, when the wedding ring he bought her slips a little and I can see a pale green stain, I want to tell her that he fucked Becky the babysitter. Her teeth flash like the gold glitter smeared across Becky’s eyelids; like Becky’s lam leggings crumpled on the attic floor. She howls and smashes dishes. She is a miniature tornado. I’ve never seen her powerful. I’ve never seen her hands destroy something she loves. She brandishes a broom and screeches, “She’s fifteen! She’s fifteen!” He grabs me by the skirt and drags me outside. He flings my bucking body. “Fucking bitch!” He spits tobacco juice on me. It lands between my breasts. I grab a handful of dirt, ready to blind him if he starts punching. “If you weren’t my sister I’d kill you.”
I walk to my car with one shoe on. I leave the shit-filled flat behind. “And you know what,” my brother yells at my back. “We don’t drink fucking wine here, Sugar! You’re always thinkin’ about yourself. That’s your whole fucking problem. Don’t you see how much you upset Cassie? God damn it, come back here, Jean! You gotta make this right!” I close my eyes and listen to him, like dirty fingernails clawing down my neck. I open the glove compartment and take out my can of mace. I shake it and point it out the window. “Get away from me, Bobby!” He holds up his hands and I feel like a cop, flush with fear kept close to the vest. I kick open my car door and point it at him, finger sweating on the trigger. Summer heat covers us like a crab net, pulling red welts across our faces. He wipes his hands on his overalls and smiles just like Dad, like he’s got a secret he’ll never tell you but he thought about telling you so you should be grateful for that. The consideration. The Southern hospitality. “Now you gotta make this right. You don’t live here no more so you don’t understand. I’m nothin’ without her. You want me to end up in the fucking nuthouse like you did? Daddy ain’t here to pay for it this time.”
The cicadas are back, vibrating around us. I remember squashing them with Bobby between our hands when he was seven, I was six. He would lick the guts off our palms while I played sick. If I didn’t, he would tell everybody at school I was a dyke. I didn’t know what it was because he wouldn’t tell me. He would skin them sometimes with his pocketknife; hold up their thin wiry armor. Years later I would cut myself and suck on each incision, slide my tongue across it, laugh because I liked it. One night some momentary boyfriend would find me like that, giggles peeling off my blood-slick tongue, used razors scattered around me on the bathroom tile like cigarette butts. I know it never takes long to lose your mind. I know my heart can take a dive. I push past him and run into the kitchen, welcome Cassie’s steak knife into my mistaken bicep. “I thought you were Bobby, I thought you were Bobby,” she weeps. Her face leaks all over me. She smells like cherry cobbler. I close my eyes and take a gulp of air.